The Healing Power of Books and Libraries

A letter in the Guardian has revealed the growing recognition of "bibliotherapy" - the power of books and reading to help address issues of poor mental health. As correspondent John Duffy writes, 

"It will pay the NHS, local authorities and voluntary support organisations to see our libraries as a profound resource that can use bibliotherapy to help people with fragile mental health, their carers and support workers with the great gift of imaginative writing."

The letter is a response to an earlier article in the same newspaper in which leading author Ann Cleeves announced that she is funding bibliotherapy programmes at the innovative Kirklees Library Service. Explaining her reasoning behind the generous support, Cleeves shares a personal insight into how books and reading facilitated the rehabilitation of her husband, Tim, following a traumatic psychotic episode. As Cleeves says,

"So I’ve decided to sponsor two bibliotherapists or reading coaches (we’ll use that title until we can come up with something better) for a pilot scheme in the north-east.

This donation will be shared across the five public health teams we have on board: Northumberland, North Tyneside, Gateshead, Co Durham and South Tees, who have agreed to also contribute funds so that we can have five reading coaches, one for each area. GPs, social prescribers and community workers will be able to refer individuals who may be struggling with chronic pain, anxiety, stress, depression or loneliness to the reading coaches, who will provide friendship and a listening ear, as well as access to books, enthusiastic librarians and other readers."

Librarians have long known about the restorative power of reading. Part of the skill of professional librarians is to understand the world of books and to get to know the individual reader so that we can recommend exactly the right book to suit that person's needs. This talent for recommendation is celebrated in CILIP's lockdown project with the Youth Libraries Group, the National Shelf Service

We hope that Cleeves' initiative will be the start of a new programme of bibliotherapy and mental health support across the nation!

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